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6 Ways to Tweak Your Chipotle Order to Make It Healthier, Say RDs

By Ashlen Wilder
|
June 29, 2023
Image credit: Shutterstock

Fast food is usually “nutritious” in the same way that History channel shows like Ax Men and Sliced are “educational” — only in the broadest definition of the words. However, not every single thing you can order at fast food restaurants is all bad, and some even offer a few truly nutritious options. One spot that has more better-for-you choices than almost anywhere else? Chipotle. With almost 3,000 locations in the U.S., Chipotle is an increasingly popular chain that offers some genuinely high-quality options that can suit a wide variety of dietary needs and preferences.

One of the reasons Chipotle is such a great choice for your health is that each meal is fully customized, and there are a wide range of protein options. The menu is very inclusive of vegans, offering two types of beans as well as sofritas, a soy-based protein. Those following a keto, low-carb, or the paleo diet can alternately opt for choices like chicken, carnitas, and shredded cheese.

So the answer to the question, “Is Chipotle healthy?” is: “It absolutely can be — if you make the right choices while you’re there.” Although you can load up on unhealthy ingredients at Chipotle, you can also hack your order so that it’s totally nutritious and made with nothing but whole foods. The restaurant also helpfully provides an online nutrition calculator to show you the calorie, fat, protein, carb, and sodium content of your meal, so you can plan in advance.

But how exactly can you build a truly healthy, balanced meal at Chipotle? We spoke with two dietitians, Sarah Mirkin, RD, founder of Kitchen Coach, and Jennifer Tasca, RD, to discover the healthiest way to build a Chipotle order. With their insights, we found some great ways to make our own Chipotle orders as healthy as possible — and they shared their favorite orders with us, too.

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1. Add flavor without adding saturated fat.

Healthy fats like guacamole are a great choice, but the saturated fats found in some of the Chipotle menu items are not recommended. “Chips may seem harmless, but one order packs a whopping 25 grams of fat and 73 grams of carbs,” says Mirkin. She also recommends steering clear of the side of queso blanco sauce. “Adding this to a dish, especially the large size, will most likely send you over the edge in terms of calories, sodium, and saturated fat.”

Instead, mix and match with the salsas for a variety of flavors. The fresh tomato salsa is mild, sweet — and totally healthy. The same goes for both the red and green tomatillo salsas. The roasted chili-corn salsa isn’t bad for you, but it does pack a good number of carbs, so be mindful of that when building your order and make sure you’re balancing it out with a high-protein option.

2. Double up on plant proteins.

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can choose from black beans, pinto beans, or sofritas as your protein choice — and if you add meat to your plate, starting with a base of beans is a great idea, too. “Beans are a good source of protein, and an excellent source of dietary fiber,” Mirkin says. Since a serving of beans only provides 8g of protein, however, she recommends choosing both the beans and sofritas if you’re choosing a vegan or vegetarian meal.

Related: How Much Protein Do I Really Need? Here’s What Science Says.

Tacos

Image credit: Shutterstock

3. Avoid empty-calorie carbohydrates (and choose whole carbs instead)

Compared to other fast food joints, there are actually not too many empty carbs found on the menu at Chipotle, making it easier to avoid these items. “To make your order healthier, try to minimize the empty calorie carbohydrates, such as the flour tortillas and white rice,” says Mirkin. “Believe it or not, if you love tacos, the crispy shell is a better choice. It’s much lower in carbohydrates, calories, and sodium than the flour tortillas.”

This is another area where either of the beans is a great call (they have almost identical macros). “Beans are an excellent choice for a carbohydrate because they are loaded with protective antioxidants and phytonutrients,” Mirkin says.

At Chipotle, you can also choose brown rice instead of white rice. Both of these choices are rich in carbs, but brown rice is a much better source of dietary fiber and has higher levels of magnesium, making it a much healthier choice for your heart. However, you can also choose to skip the rice altogether and get your healthy carb hit from the beans instead.

4. Balance your meal for blood sugar control

Chipotle offers a lot of carbs, like rice, corn, chips, and tortillas. “If that’s the bulk of what you are eating, that may cause a blood sugar spike,” Tasca says. “That can actually kind of slow down your metabolism and make you feel really tired afterward, hindering your mental acuity. So I wouldn’t want to say that you can’t eat those foods, but I would want you to balance them.”

For vegetarians and vegans, she would recommend balancing out the carbohydrates (like beans, rice, and corn) with plenty of healthy protein, like chicken, and fat, like the avocado in guacamole.

5. Load up on vegetables

There are many nutritious whole foods found on the menu here, including vegetables and fruits like lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, avocado, and their fajita vegetables, a mix of red and green bell peppers with onions and oregano. Mirkin recommends vegetable-filled lifestyle bowls and salads, noting that it’s a great idea to include both the greens and fajita vegetables in your order. Tasca says that it’s always a good idea to load up your bowl with iron-rich, hydrating romaine lettuce. Just be mindful that the salad dressing can be loaded with sugar, so ask for it on the side or simply skip it.

5. Be mindful of the sodium

Although Chipotle is healthier than many other fast food options, be aware that many of the ingredients used to make your beloved burritos are high in sodium. Mirkin says that for this reason, a meal high in sodium would be a better choice after a “heavy sweat session” since sweating during exercise depletes us of electrolytes, including sodium. Out of all of the salsas, the green tomatillo has the lowest amount of sodium, so if you’re trying to go easy on the salt intake, it’s a great way to add flavor without adding extra salt.

In the end, both dietitians we interviewed chose pretty similar go-to orders completely independently of each other — which makes us think that their order is the one we’ll be asking for from now on.

Here’s what registered dietitians like to order

  • Jennifer Tasca: Salad with fajita vegetables, roasted corn salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo, and a protein such as chicken, carnitas, or steak.
  • Sarah Mirkin: Salad with fajita vegetables, beans, green tomatillo salsa, grilled chicken, and a small amount of guacamole on the side.

Read next: This Is the Healthiest Way to Order Coffee, Says Dietitian

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